Live In Athens 1987

Released 16th October, 2020

We are in Athens and it’s October 1987. More significantly, it’s the climax of Peter Gabriel’s This Way Up tour, an endeavour that kicked off nearly 12 long months previously – in Rochester, NY, – tens and tens of thousands of miles ago.

Over many, many months, this jolly caravan has travelled throughout North America and Europe, from Buffalo to Bologna, Milwaukee to Munich, Toronto to Toulouse. It’s nearly all over. And here in the Greek capital the occasion will be preserved for eternity.

On stage with Peter are David Rhodes on guitar, Tony Levin on bass, David Sancious on keyboards and Manu Katché on drums, ‘the famous five’, joined towards the end of the show by Youssou N’Dour and members of his band Les Super Etoiles de Dakar.

The concert was recorded over three nights at the Lycabettus theatre, by Kevin Killen, Effanel Music, Randy Ezratty, Mark Shane and John Harris and subsequently mixed by Kevin Killen and David Bottrill for the P.O.V. film, produced by Martin Scorsese and directed by Michael Chapman. In 2012, the audio was restored and mixed by Ben Findlay (alongside the concert film), for the So 25th anniversary album, released that October, and can be found within the So box set and the 3CD and digital special edition versions of the album.

This, however, is the first time on vinyl for ‘Live in Athens 1987’, presented as a 2LP set with a wide-spine single sleeve and full colour printed inner bags, featuring brand-new artwork by Marc Bessant, Gabriel’s long-time designer. In a nod to the Plays Live album the cover image features another close-up picture of Peter taken by photographer Armando Gallo, whilst the back cover – Peter falling backwards into the audience – is by Guido Harari. The iconic Plays Live cover captures a moment of stillness, but this new Live In Athens image is the epitome of singer-in-motion.

The album has been Half-Speed Remastered and cut to lacquers at 33RPM by Matt Colton at Alchemy Mastering and comes with a hi-res audio download code (24bit or 16bit).

Bolstered by the success of the album So, “my pop-star moment” as Peter calls it, the accompanying tour saw not only a bigger but also a different kind of audience “there were girls in the audience for pretty much the first time – so that was a revelation that delighted both me and the band.”

David Staullbamer, Peter’s former assistant, recalls: “The first couple of tours I did with Peter, it was very much a cult crowd, everyone knew every word, every note of every song. With So everything catapulted, we went from playing 3,000 to 10,000 venues to stadiums. Instead of seeing 5,000 die hard student fans in a college town somewhere, you were seeing 40,000 people who knew every word to So. It became a very different environment.”

Photo by Pennie Smith

In his sleeve notes for the Back to Front release (the tour that saw Peter revisit all the songs from the So album with the same band from 86/87) Mark Beaumont explores how the experience was as disorientating and life changing for Peter as much as for those who saw the show:

“Gabriel’s response [to the success of So] was to build his new show around a set piece of confusion, violence and panic. On the expanded arena scale that the record’s success had granted him, the light attack of ‘No Self Control’ was the perfect dramatisation of the psychological torment inherent in the song, yes, but also a reflection of the dizzying and intrusive mainstream world that Gabriel had leapt into, feet first and eyes wide open.”

In his interview with Michael Bonner for UNCUT Magazine (issue September 2020), Peter reflected further on the importance of this part of the show:

“There was another moment in ‘No Self Control’, where I get attacked by the lights. I’d seen these camera booms move around when we were doing videos and thought, ‘That’s very cool, I wonder if we could grab some of these booms and stick lights on them.’ I talked to Jonathan Smeeton, who was working with me at the time and that’s what we did. I think it’s one of our best performance devices. It felt more like opening up my internal world – whereas the masks [used on previous tours] had been somehow a more external expression, which is a little more artificial in some ways. The presentation evolved over time.”

Writing in the New Musical Express (4 July 1987) Len Brown’s review picked out further highlights: “Peter Gabriel’s finest moments came with the haunting and heartfelt ‘Mercy Street’ and ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’, in which he back-flipped into the crowd and allowed himself to be carried supine over a sea of hands. Although he lost his jacket in the process, he emerged unscathed from his astonishing piece of theatre – the man must be mad – and kept the arena on its feet for the inevitable ‘Sledgehammer’ and a memorably emotional ‘Biko’.”

The support band for the whole tour had been Youssou N’Dour and Le Super Etoile de Dakar, who Gabriel had first seen perform in Paris in 1980 at the recommendation of producer George Acogny. The pair then met a few times during Gabriel’s frequent visits to the Senegalese capital and solidified their connection in 1985 when, in London to play a concert, N’Dour put a call in to Gabriel to meet up and was subsequently invited to the West Country.  It was during this three day visit that N’Dour contributed his stunning Wolof vocals to the song ‘In Your Eyes’. A rousing rendition of which can be heard on this album.

Earlier in the Athens evening Gabriel had introduced N’Dour and his Super Etoile band to the expectant audience. “We started the tour in New York in November 1986 and I was nervous, even though I was used to playing to large audiences back home,” remembers N’Dour. “But after Peter came onstage and explained to the public who we were, we were made to feel so welcome. He did that every night, before every concert. His generosity was touching.”

“Having spent many years with Genesis working as a support band, I knew how badly supports could be treated by the main artists and particularly their crew,” smiles Gabriel in reply. “I’ve always been determined to give the artists we work with a chance to be properly heard.”

As a companion to this concert N’Dour’s excellent own performance – including a smouldering version of his epic song Immigrés – can be heard in-full on the album Fatteliku (Live In Athens 1987), released on Real World Records.